Iran Protests Unlikely to Threaten Regime, Israeli Researcher Says

Ran Zimmt says demonstrations against cuts in state subsidies probably won't reach the scale of Iran's previous protests

Sam Sokol
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaking on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, February.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaking on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, February.Credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS
Sam Sokol

Iranian rallies against a recent cut in state subsidies are unlikely to match the scope of previous waves of protest or pose a threat to the stability of the regime, a prominent Israeli expert predicted on Wednesday.

“My sense is that the peak of the protests is over,” although “there are still probably relatively low-profile protests in several areas, but nothing special,” says Raz Zimmt, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies and the Institute for National Security Studies.

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“Even if you compare these protests to the protests in Iran last summer over shortages of water and electricity, and certainly to the gas protests in 2019, these protests don’t seem to be so significant,” he says.

Protests erupted in some cities last week, sparked by the government’s subsidy cut decision that caused price hikes of as much as 300 percent for a variety of flour-based staples. The government also raised prices of some basic goods, such as cooking oil and dairy products, in a country where almost half of the 85 million residents live under the poverty line, according to official figures.

Wheat prices have risen significantly in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Now protesters have expanded their demands, calling for more political freedom, an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders, according to witnesses and social media posts.

Videos posted online showed demonstrators burning images of Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and calling for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the toppled shah of Iran.

Iran’s state news agency said on Friday that some shops had been “set on fire in some cities,” prompting police to arrest scores of “provocateurs.”

Al Arabiya quoted local activists as saying that as many as six people may have been killed by government forces since the beginning of the protests. The Dubai-based news station reported that protests had broken out in multiple provinces, including Isfahan, Khuzestan and Bakhtiari.

Online videos that could not be authenticated by Haaretz appeared to show burning cars, chants for Iranian leaders to step down and Iranian troops opening fire on protesters.

The latest unrest adds to mounting pressure on Iran’s rulers, who are struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under U.S. sanctions, reimposed since 2018 when Washington ditched Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Talks to revive the pact have stalled since March, but the regime remains “capable of dealing with those protests” and continuing economic pressure on Tehran is unlikely to cause the Islamic Republic to “become more flexible” regarding its nuclear program, Zimmt contends.

“I’m not sure the regime is that concerned with the situation right now up to the point where it has to reconsider its position,” he says.

In 2019, what began as scattered protests over a surprise increase in fuel prices quickly spread into one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s rulers, sparking the bloodiest crackdown in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic.

The reported death toll in 2019 has varied between a Reuters account of 1,500 dead and an Amnesty International figure of more than 300. Both have been dismissed by Iranian authorities.

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